PDHblog This is a place for members of Progressive Democrats of Hawai‘i to express their thoughts, hopes and exasperations about political happenings.

May 28, 2014

Brian Schatz v. Colleen Hanabusa: Who Represents “Change”?

Filed under: Elections,HI Politics,National Politics,US Senate Race — Bart @ 1:57 pm

US Rep. Colleen Hanabusa

US Senator Brian Schatz

Note from Bart:

The comments here represent my personal views and may not be shared by all (or even by many) other members and officers of PDH.

I have been criticized for writing lengthy comments for other online websites, but rarely for the PDH Blog. So I am posting here an extended comment I wrote on Civil Beat in reply to a reader claimed Schatz should not be seen as a candidate for change because he is “one of Abercrombie’s guys” and, therefore, the choice of the “establishment.” That reader appears to be a Tea Party rightwinger. I got a sense of that from his comment. But because some Tea Party “logic” is often found among confused voters who do not see themselves as Tea Partiers, I tried to not simply dismiss his remarks but tried to take them seriously, with the recognition his views are not unique to him or to the TP crowd, but are being pushed by some Hanabusa supporters as well.

Here is the article on the Civil Beat website, a report on the latest poll which shows Schatz leading Hanabusa by 5 percentage points. The original article, of course, is more worthy than my lengthy comments, so feel free to leave here to go there.


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Johnny, Let me take a moment to address your comments.


First off, I suggest the assertion Schatz is “one of Abercrombie’s guys” is not useful for analyzing what is going on. It may be useful as a weapon for attacking Schatz by trying to taint him with the faults of Abercrombie. But it does not reflect the facts. Many of us hold politicians in contempt for “spinning” the truth, playing loosely with facts to make themselves look better and cast blame on their opponents. I suggest we are no better than that if we resort to the same tactics in our “anti-establishment” zeal.
Where does this claim about Schatz come from? OK, Schatz was Neil’s LG. Sorry. That does not provide any support for your claim against Schatz. In Hawaii, the primary voters pick the LG, not the Governor. The people of Hawaii cast almost twice as many votes for Schatz as for Bobby Bunda, his nearest rival in a crowded field.

Abercrombie did not support Schatz over his primary opponents and Schatz was very careful to steer a middle path between Neil and his opponent, Mufi Hanneman. In fact, some of Neil’s people saw Schatz as a Mufi supporter at that time. And, when Schatz was elected LG, he appointed A.J. Halagao, Mufi’s campaign coordinator, to run his office.


Perhaps Schatz is “Abercrombie’s guy” because the Governor picked him to become the US Senator? The Democratic Party’s “board of directors,” the SCC, a group of about 80 people from across the state, had the responsibility for presenting 3 names to the Governor from which to make that selection. I was part of that process and we wrestled with the question of whose names to move forward. There was no uniform set of criteria for evaluating the names. But, in broad terms, these are the kind of considerations we weighed:First, the pool was limited by law to Democratic party members. Second, we gave weight to whether the nominees would be able to mount an effective campaign in 2014, when the appointed term comes to an end. Some people suggested a “placeholder” appointment of someone who would NOT run in 2014 and those arguments were also considered.I do not know how conversant you might be with the pool of potential Democratic US Senators from Hawaii. It is not a large group of names. We did not necessarily limit ourselves to current officeholders, but that was a good place to start. Former elected officials were also considered, including ex-governors. Shinseki’s name was floated. At least one prominent businessman. We interviewed everyone who submitted their name or whose name was submitted by others, with their approval. Some were delusional “vanity” candidates, IMO.

In the end, we came up with Schatz, Hanabusa and Esther Kiaaina. I would defend those choices. And each of them received the support of a majority of the SCC members, even though each had their own base of supporters who favored them as the first choice. There was a significant gap in support between the third and fourth place name. I am giving away no secrets in sharing this. It can be gleaned from news accounts from the time.

A strong case could be–and was–made for each of those three nominees. But it was up to the Governor to pick. I honestly could have supported whichever one he chose.


The strongest argument made against Abercrombie’s selection of Schatz–and when I say “strongest,” I mean the most politically effective argument, not the most logical– is the accusation he should have “honored” Senator Inouye’s dying request that Hanabusa be appointed. (I do not hear you making that argument). I think that argument is cheap and disingenuous. And, ironically enough, disrespectful to Senator Inouye, by suggesting he be treated as a dying king wanting to name his own heir. The insinuation Inouye saw himself as the top political boss, even as an “Emperor” of Hawaii politics was a recurring accusation coming from the political right which Democrats had fought against for years. Yet here, just as Senator has died, this is how his closest operatives are insisting we should view Inouye? Forgive my French, but WTF? I had rejected that charge from the Right and was not willing to fall for it from people trying to retain control of the power which was now slipping from their grasp.Senator Inouye DID want Hanabusa appointed. In his view, she was the one most likely to hold together the team of people he had assembled over the years, the so-called “Team Inouye,” a group of staffers, close allies, lobbyists, defense contractors, campaign contributors and political insiders who wanted to continue both his policies and the stream of “pork” he had proudly brought back to the state and had distributed with them largely determining where it went and who got it. But Inouye was only offering HIS advice, not issuing a decree, not assuming his “dying wish” must be obeyed by the Governor. The way top banker Walter Dods and HECO chair Jeff Watanabe played up the letter to Abercrombie, with top Inouye staffers standing barely concealed in the shadows, was disrepectful to both democracy and the Senator, in my view. (I say that knowing it will anger people I would rather NOT have angry at me).

At the time, Senator Hanabusa was clearly the more experienced legislator than Schatz. I said at the time, she would probably be better equipped to “hit the ground running.” But, contrary to your impression, Schatz is no “empty suit.” If you are unaware of his qualifications and achievements, let me suggest that reflects more on your lack of familiarity with Hawaii politics, the legislative process and the world of non-profits. It is not your fault you are unfamiliar with these things. But I think you make a mistake when you rely upon your lack of knowledge to make bold statements.
The argument that Schatz is young enough to acquire significant seniority for the benefit of Hawaii may be distasteful to you. But it arises from the nature of power in the Senate and is not something invented by Brian Schatz or Neil Abercrombie. It is ironic that Hanabusa’s campaign, which brags about her political “Real Politic”–her ability to operate in the “real world” of hard-nosed politics, should now feign indignation that “seniority” should be considered a legitimate criterion in an election. Both Senators Inouye and Akaka remained in office, unable to retire, because they had acquired so much seniority that their loss of seniority would hurt the people of Hawaii. The decision to convince Akaka to retire was made, perhaps too late, with the hope Senator Inouye would remain in office long enough as Akaka’s replacement slowly climber the seniority ladder. All politically astute Democrats knew this, most definitely including Team Inouye’s top operatives. So it is disingenuous for them to now act as if it is “unworthy” for Schatz supporters to point to his youth and potential seniority as one argument in his favor. “Why do you dislike older people?” (I write this as someone only two years younger than congresswoman Hanabusa).


So Johnny, your view of the “political establishment” and mine are quite different. I see Hanabusa’s base of support as rooted in the Inouye operatives and campaign contributors, but not necessarily those who voted for him. To a large degree, these people also supported the rise of Mufi Hanneman, who had been also groomed for Congress with an eye towards becoming senator. They have supported other ambitious politicians as well. But their top priority at this time is to elect Hanabusa to the US Senate in an effort to re-estblish their web of influence. That is the Old Order. It is crumbling. They are trying to shore up the structure, but I suspect most voters are eager for a change. Schatz is not beholden to that network. Nor is he beholden to Abercrombie’s network. He was in Abercrombie’s view, the best choice of the small pool available for appointment. But that does not make him “Neil’s Boy.” He is his own man, with his own network of support emerging, both locally and nationally. As with any political network, he will have allies I do not necessarily like. But, on balance, I prefer for the “Ancien Régime” to crumble away and allow for new possibilities to emerge.

I suspect your political commitments do not allow you to see the “establishment” in these sort of terms. But I have shared my perspective in the hopes that maybe it will cause you to question the idea that an incumbent US senator might not be “the establishment” politician and the fact Abercrombie appointed him does not make him Abercrombie’s puppet. I suspect most Hawaii voters, while not expressing their views in as longwindedly as I have just done, will see past the superficial and agree with the broad outlines of the framework I have spelled out here. And there is no contradiction between voters supporting David Ige because they want to replace Abercrombie and many of those same voters supporting Schatz’s election because they do not want a return to the “staus quo ante” domination of Hawaii politics by the Old Boy Network.

Voters want new possibilities and change. I think Schatz represents those possibilities. I read both this poll and that by PPP as saying most voters agree.

NOTE to PDH Blog readers:

Feel free to post your comments either here or on the Civil Beat site. The CB site gets more eyeballs (by a long shot). But comments posted here are likely to remain on the web for longer than those on Civil Beat. My comments on Mike Gabbard’s ties with the Chris Butler Hare Krishna group continue to get hits from people all over the world trying to understand Tulsi Gabbard’s background.

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